Year Joined MKLM: 2021
Country: El Salvador
Town: El Zaite, Zaragoza
Ministry: Patronato Lidia Coggiola Community Center
Ministry Area: Education and Leadership Training
Goal of Ministry: To accompany and support the education and empowerment of the people in the El Zaite community.
Settled by refugees after the country’s civil war, the El Zaite community has limited access to essential resources for living – food, water and electricity. The area has been gang-controlled, and the people continue to live under the threat of violence. Nationwide, roughly 34% of children do not attend the elementary grade levels; more than 60% of children do not finish high school; and approximately 20% of the population above the age of 10 are illiterate. Available jobs traditionally do not pay a living wage, have unsafe conditions and require long hours. Child labor is prevalent within poorer communities, with 1.8 million children currently employed (see Borgen Project).
Liz and Bob assist with the many programs that El Patronato offers the community, including the Refuerzo after-school program, the Tú Decides (You Decide) teen group and the Women’s Collective. They are exploring the possibility of creating a new program for ancianos/as (the elderly) in the coming year. The government does not have programs for the elderly, and NGOs tend to focus on other populations.
The government “state of exception” has kept them from entering Mariona Prison recently, but they are hoping that will change and they can return soon. Bob started facilitating Alternatives to Violence workshops this past year, and he is looking forward to the program coming to the El Zaite community.
Bob grew up on Long Island, New York, where he met his future wife, Liz. Bob and Liz raised their three children in the Boston area.
After serving in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps following college, Bob began his career in advertising in New York City and went on to work at a number of major universities. Following his career in higher education, Bob worked in the areas of spiritual ministry and global health. Bob served as chair of Concord Prison Outreach and on the board of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. He is a recipient of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections Volunteer Award. Bob has degrees from Holy Cross College and New York University.
Bob’s inspiration for joining Maryknoll Lay Missioners comes from the examples set by his family, friends and teachers, most especially: his parents, Robert and Patricia Cunningham; his wife, Liz; and his uncle, Maryknoll Father Bob Lilly.